>>Rick Archer: Welcome to this webinar, offered by the Association for Spiritual Integrity, which I’ll explain in a moment, and co-offered by Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer. I’m the creator and host of the Buddha at the Gas Pump interview show. And I’m also a founding member of the Association for Spiritual Integrity, which is a nonprofit charity founded in 2018 with Craig Holliday, Jac O’Keefe and myself and we now have also Miranda McPherson and Phil Goldberg on our board of directors, and Mariana Caplan is an advisor. The ASI, which is the acronym for Association for Spiritual Integrity, arose out of a deep need to address the numerous scandals and confusion involving spiritual teachers, their students, and communities over the years. We aim to deepen the conversation and become an evolving force in education so that there is greater integrity and professionalism within the modern spiritual landscape. We’re really honored today to have as our — oh, about four times a year we offer a webinar for our members, and today’s webinar, we’re really honored to have Swami Sarvapriyananda as the presenter. I’m a big fan of his. I’ve been listening to his podcasts and his webinars, and I always feel like I learn a lot from him. He has been minister and spiritual leader of the Vedanta Society of New York since January 2017. He was a Nagral Fellow at Harvard Divinity School during the 2019-20 academic year. Prior to this, he served as Assistant Minister of the Vedanta Society of Southern California for 13 months. Swamiji joined the Ramakrishna Math and Mission in 1994 and received Sannyas (renunciate initiation) in 2004. Before coming to serve in the US, he served as an Acharya (teacher) of the monastic probationers Training Center at Belur Math in West Bengal, India, the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, founded by Swami Vivekananda, the chief disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahansa. He has served the Ramakrishna Math and Mission in various capacities including being the Vice Principal of the Deoghar Vidyapith Higher Secondary School, Principal of the Shikshana Mandira Teacher Education College at Belur Math, and the first Registrar of the Vivekananda University at Belur Math. So, ethics have always been an essential component of all time-honored traditions, and for good reason. But many contemporary teachers have underemphasized this point or even contradicted it. I feel that we couldn’t hope for a more articulate or authoritative spokesperson to explain to us how and why an ethical life is foundational to any real spiritual development. The spokesperson I’m referring to, of course, is today’s speaker Swami Sarvapriyananda. So, I think Jac O’Keefe, one of our co-founders, wants to say a word before Swami begins to speak.
>>Jac O’Keeffe: Thank you, Rick. Apologies for my poor-quality Ethernet. What I want to add is how significant this is for the ASI to have Swami Sarvapriyananda today, because he has recognized and speaks about the cultural shifts and cultural values that must be readdressed and seen from a contemporary point of view, how do we live in the world? What are our current values in living in today’s society? And how does that weave into time-honored ancient spiritual traditions that may, in many ways, have their teachings rooted in outdated cultural values? So there are cultural values and then there’s ethical practice that comes from that and I think going into where they overlap is particularly interesting for the ASI. How do we learn about the cultural shift that we need to embrace in order to do our work better, better serve ourselves as human beings, and better serve our community? And so how spirituality has to change in order for it to survive and be healthy is what sparked the significance of having this talk in conjunction with the BatGap today. And so, from Rick and myself, and all of our community, welcome, and thank you for coming to see us to speak with us today Swamiji. We’re looking forward to hearing what you’ve got to say.
>>Swami Sarvapriyananda: Thank you. Should I make the presentation now? And then we’ll open up for question answers?
>>Rick Archer: Yes, please. Yes. Please.
>>Swami Sarvapriyananda: Thank you, Rick, for having me. Thank you to the ASI, for organizing this program in collaboration with BatGap. I think it is very topical, very important, this subject. So let me just start off by giving a little, little foundation to Advaita an introduction to Advaita and to ethics in Advaita Vedanta, very briefly. I think it’ll be much more interesting and important to interact with the participants here. So I won’t take much time. As Rick mentioned, last year I had an interesting experience at the Harvard Divinity School. I was there for one year. And in one of the courses, it was not actually a course on Vedanta, it was actually a course on Buddhism, Indo-Tibetan Buddhism. So one of the readings we had by an academic academician, was very interesting. It talked about different models of enlightenment. And it said, there are basically these two models of enlightenment and talking about Buddhism. That one is what he called, the author called, an epistemic shift model. So our entire worldview is transformed. So the enlightenment experience, it transforms our understanding of what we are and what the word is. So for example, in Tibetan Buddhism, it might mean realizing the emptiness itself as the emptiness of the world, that would be the wisdom that arises out of Bodhi the enlightening wisdom. In Advaita Vedanta would mean realizing that I am Brahman, and the world is an appearance, whatever. That’s a tremendous shift in the way we see ourselves and the world. So that’s one way in which enlightenment is understood in all of these ancient cultures. So there is some way of understanding enlightenment, that’s basically an epistemic shift, a shift in the way we understand. In contrast, in addition, sometimes, is this other model of enlightenment, which that author called an ethical manifestation model, ethical manifestation model. Basically, if a person is enlightened, seeking enlightenment, on the way to enlightenment, one would expect that person to manifest certain ethical qualities, like integrity, truths, like non-violence, like self-discipline, like a check on indulgence, on sense indulgences, a variety of ethical practices should be manifested to some level of excellence. In a Buddhist sense, one might say, manifestation of the Buddha-nature. So the first model would be recognition of the Buddha-nature within ourselves; realization of that. The second model would be manifestation of the qualities of a Buddha in our day-to-day life. So these two, I was really struck, you know, the full idea of enlightenment would be the two together. One would realize the ultimate truth in whatever way one conceptualizes it, it becomes a reality for us. And the second is, one would manifest the qualities of, of integrity, of love, of unselfishness, of feeling of oneness, in one’s day-to-day behavior. So I’ll speak about this from the Advaitic perspective. Ethics is integral to spirituality, in all traditions. One can be, as Rick said, one can actually be good, without being particularly spiritual, but one cannot be spiritual without being good. This is the basic foundation, which connects ethics to spirituality. In Advaita Vedanta, we see that ethics is the foundation of the path. It is there throughout the path. And it’s also the manifestation of the result that the enlightenment should also manifest in ethical, in an ethical life. So it’s there throughout. At the beginning of the path, there are these four practices that we are expected to manifest, to internalize and express in our lives. So every Advaita student starts the study of traditional Vedic texts. The first thing that these texts will usually mention are the qualifications of a student of Vedantic, or Advaitic student.
The qualifications are Viveka, remember, these are very specialized qualifications, they’re not generally just good, what you need to be a decent human being – something more than that. It’s already taken for granted that one is already a decent and moral human being. A little more than that, a discernment between eternal and the non-eternal. So maybe we have studied, and we have heard that there is an ultimate reality. And this word is an appearance. So this discernment that there is something worth having in spiritual life, there’s something deep and profound here, which is of enormous value to me. So we begin with this. The second is our dispassion for the non-eternal. So all that I was sunk in, immersed in, pursuing, that maybe the goal of my life is to be rich or popular or have a really good relationship or have lots of gadgets or all of these, these become secondary, unimportant, they are no longer central to my life. What is Central is this pursuit of enlightenment. You can call it in different ways enlightenment, God-realization, whatever. So this is called in Sanskrit “Vairāgya” – dispassion. The third is actually a set of six practices, there’s a little bit of cheating going on here. They said four practices and in the third one, they’ve included, packed in, six more. So we have a total of nine practices, the six more are basically disciplines, it makes sense to pack them together. So six practices, one is a serenity, a certain calmness of mind, it is called Shama. And the second ‘ one is called Dama. Dama means a control of the organs. That means these five sense organs and the five motor organs. And the third one is called Uparati. Uparati literally means sort of a withdrawal from too much engagement with the world outside. So if, for example, weekends are spent – all we can busy working, and weekends are spent partying. Remember, I am in Manhattan, to the city that never sleeps. And they say – there’s a big slogan here, “the city that dreams but never sleeps”. So if you’re, if people are busy working all day long throughout the week, you need time and energy leftover, our serious spiritual pursuit requires that amount of time and energy. So a little withdrawal from too much engagement with the world. So that is called Uparati. Rati is complete engagement with the world, you know, like diving into, like a life of work and partying and just being with people all the time. Uparati is the reverse, pulling back into solitude into oneself, into a certain separation from the hubbub of the world outside. And then there is Titiksha, a Sanskrit word. Titiksha means a spiritual toughness, literally forbearance, a kind of, no matter what life throws at me, no matter what the world throws at me, I should stick to my spiritual pursuit. I should stick to my study, my meditation, my ethical practices.
Notice how much trouble people put up with, to pursue a career, to raise a family. So you put up with so many things, even personal illness, and unhappiness, they’ve got to turn up for a job doesn’t matter if you have a, if you’re not feeling well, well not in these days, of course, often what happens is, when life becomes tough, the first thing that we sacrifice is our spiritual practices, practices. So not doing that. And then there is Samadhana – focus. You can see all these are connected. Once the other practices are in place. Now with the extra time, energy, you have to focus on your spiritual path, settle down to serious spiritual practice. And Shraddha. The sixth one is Shraddha. Shraddha means of faith. Faith here doesn’t mean blind belief, just that a working faith in the sense that what these texts say what these teachers say there is something to it, maybe I don’t get it right now. But if I keep at it, I’ll get it. Just like we learn anything. When we go to school or college. We go to a class. We don’t start off with the idea that the teacher is a liar, and the textbooks are all fake news. No, we start with the idea that they have got something to teach me let me work at it. Let me try to learn. So that kind of at least that kind of faith. So these are the six practices, which are all packed into the third qualification. And the fourth qualification the virtuous student’s supposed to have is Mumukshutva. In Sanskrit literally means an intense desire to be free. This is probably the most powerful and most important one. So we have these four practices which give the moral basis for spiritual life in Advaita Vedanta. So it is a Viveka discernment between the eternal and non-eternal so that you’re firmly focused on your goal. Second, dispassion from the non-eternal – again you can see how it helps in focus. The third one is a set of six practices, which I just mentioned. And the fourth one is an intense desire to be free, to be liberated, to attain the goal as it is said in Vedanta. This is basically, these are fourfold qualifications, which one learns as an entrant into the path of Advaita Vedanta, but you see these scattered across all the texts, variations of these. So in the Bhagavad Gita, for example, in the 13th chapter, there is a list, there’s a whole list of 20 moral practices, including truth, including serenity of mind, including control of the senses, and so on. 20 practices. But they all boil down to an ethical foundation. I’ll just make one more point and then I’ll stop. I’ve got lots more to say. But I think I’ll introduce them in between discussions.
In Advaita Vedanta, a fundamental is this, that the goal is to attain happiness, lasting fulfillment, and to transcend suffering. Just like in Buddhism, the ultimate goal is to overcome or transcend suffering. So in Sanskrit, “Paramananda Prapti”, attainment of ultimate fulfillment, or bliss, and `aatyantika dukkha nivritti, complete transcendence of sorrow or suffering, that’s the goal. How do you do it? I’m giving you a bare-bones framework of the Advaitic path. How do you do it?
The problem is that we do not know who or what we are. We think we are these little creatures of flesh and blood, born in such and such time and going through this process, and one day we are going to die and that’s it. Advaita Vedanta says, this is far from the case, we are actually beings of spirit we are existence, consciousness, bliss, we are not flesh and blood, we are not even our thoughts, not the body, not even the mind. You are this immortal consciousness shining through this body and mind. When I like this saying, I don’t know where it comes from, that we think we are human beings in search of spiritual experience. But the truth is, that we are spiritual beings having a human experience. And Advaita Vedanta wants to stress that, that we do not know that we are spiritual beings. And in fact, Advaita would go further and say, we are this one spiritual being. It’s not even that we are separate spiritual beings, we are this one reality, which is appearing as many. As this manifold world, and as many beings. So we have 33 people on Zoom right now. Are we ultimately 33 people, if you count the bodies and Zoom participants, 33. Even the minds are different, the persons are different, but beyond the body/mind beyond the person is this one spiritual unity, even beyond unity, identity would be a more correct way of putting it. So one existence consciousness bliss. We do not know that – that’s our root problem. And the solution… So the problem is ignorance and the solution to ignorance is always knowledge. So, the whole Advaitic practice is to gain this spiritual insight. And beyond the body/mind, we are this one existence, consciousness bliss in which appears, this universe, and all these bodies and minds.
Now with the ethical foundation, the process starts and the process in Advaita Vedanta is basically a study of the texts, reasoning, and contemplation of the texts and the process of meditation until what is told in the texts becomes a living reality. Right now living realities, we are, we are separate human beings. That’s our only reality. Advaita promises that there’s a much deeper level to this. Now, so ethics is necessary for proceeding on that path, on this path. None of this will work unless there is an ethical foundation to our lives. And once we attain or as we proceed along the path, our ethical practices, ethical life, should become stronger and more clearly manifest. Why? That part I will deal with later. That’s a huge subject. What exactly is ethics? The question what is right and wrong? And why should I be? Why should I be good? And why should I be good? Why should I not be bad if it helps me in some way? So the Advaitic answer to that, I’ll put it in a nutshell, and then we can flesh it out as we go along. Advaitic answer to that is, if I lie, I cheat, and I deprive others, deceive others since fundamentally, there are no others, you are one reality, we are only hurting ourselves. It’s actually very delusional to think that I gain at the expense of others when the others are nothing more than my own expression. We are all one reality by hurting others, and literally, in a very deep sense, working against myself and hurting myself. So this oneness is at the foundation of ethics. And it opens up a vast field of discussion. What is ethics? What is the foundation of ethics? So, quick recap. What have I done so far? I’ve given you a basic bare-bones outline of what Advaita Vedanta is, what is the ethical preparation for a student? And why Advaita Vedanta implies ethics at the beginning of the path, during the path, and at the culmination of the fulfillment of the path. Okay. Now stepping back, now we’re going to take a look at is what’s going on in the field of ethics? And what can Advaita Vedanta contribute to this, and then I’ll stop, and we will, we can interact?
So when we look at the field of ethics, and when I mean when I say ethics, let me define this. Morality is good and bad, what is good, what is bad? What is the right way to act? What is the wrong way to act? And ethics, we use them interchangeably, but academically speaking, ethics is the study of morals. So it’s a field of study, where we examine what is right and wrong and why should one be good? Why should I be ethical? Why should I be ethical? Yes. So, fundamental question in the field of ethics is why should I be ethical? Why should I be moral? Why should I not steal or lie or rob or deceive if it helps me, if my life becomes better? And now, different theories have come forward and we have studied this especially people who have studied philosophy, you always have ethics 101 courses, you know, just not just in philosophy, if you studied Business Management, if you studied law — in different fields, political science, so, there are different ways of understanding this. One way is the utilitarian’s, you know, that ethics leads to a better life, the whole goal of life. Life makes you more happy, okay. So, the utilitarian one is the utilitarian perspective. Ethics increase total happiness. Why total happiness? Because, while it is true that individual happiness might be increased if a person cheats, lies, accumulates wealth unfairly, total happiness is what we should be looking at. This is the utilitarians – the English philosophers, Mill and Jeremy Bentham, and others. Now, the problem with utilitarianism is, I mean, very easy to, you know, you can justify just about anything. You’re looking at total happiness. So for example, if you caught a terrorist who knows where a bomb is supposed to go off. So these are philosophers call them thought experiments. These are things you cannot actually do in life. But just think about it. What would you say? So, you have you are law enforcement and you have caught a terrorist who knows where a bomb is placed. A lot of people might die. So would you torture? Would you torture the terrorist? Because remember, if your guideline is benefit of the maximum number of people, a lot of people are going to get hurt. So it’s okay to hurt one person to prevent others from being hurt. That’s what the law tells you. But you might feel uneasy about it. Would you do it or not? The principle from utilitarianism, utilitarianism tells you, in a very simplistic way, tells you that you can actually hurt one person in order to benefit many people. Many somebody would say, Yeah, that’s right. You should go ahead and hurt that person so that many people can be saved. But that experiment can be pushed further. They say so, this terrorist, he’s a tough nut, he will not reveal anything under torture. But he has a little five-year-old kid, would you not torture the five-year-old kid in front of the father to make the father confess? Now, a lot of people would back out here, this is too much, right? But utilitarianism, I mean, in its plain calculus sense tells you to go ahead, it’s just one person against. So this is the problem. And the classic trolley problem, for example. The trolley problem is in this is something they throw out in every class. And I faced this at Harvard University with our professor who was a Nobel Prize winner in economics, and very smart people sitting around in the class. And he threw out the classic problem, the trolley problem is, there is a trolley coming with, coming down the tracks. And on one side, there are 10 people standing, the trolleys out of control, it’s going to hit them, and you are standing near the switch, which can switch the trolley from one track to another track. And at the end of this track, is one person standing. So would you make the switch? Would you switch the trolley from this side to that so that five people can be saved and one person will be killed? Would you make that choice? So if you’re, if you’re a utilitarian, you would make the choice, you would at least be forced to make the choice Yes, one person’s life is less valuable than five persons’ lives.
So funny anecdote here, an interesting anecdote. So because I guess it was Harvard and the people there are very smart people, and they think out of the box. One of the students said, Professor, I would do neither, you know, I wouldn’t allow this to happen or that to happen. And the professor said, but you don’t have a choice. And that the student answered so beautifully. He said, In life, there is always a choice. This is an artificial example. And both choices are awful. If you’re an ethical person, you will look for a better choice than these two awful choices kill one person or kill five persons. And then the professor. He gave a beautiful anecdote which I’ll share with you. I can tell the name of the professor, Professor Amartya Sen is a Nobel Prize winner in economics from India. And he teaches philosophy and economics at Harvard. So his anecdote was this. He said, “That’s a beautiful response”. And let me share this anecdote. Many, many years ago, economists were invited from Harvard University and other places, academicians from different universities, by the Pope, John Paul II, for an encyclical about ethical life in the world. And so each person was asked to contribute a few lines to that papal encyclical. And one of the economists who goes unnamed, also a Nobel Prize winner, got hold of the Pope and said, “Holy Father, you must write it in the encyclical, that capitalism is the most ethical form of economic life. And so if it comes from the Pope, you know, it will be wonderful”. And so he was sort of badgering the Pope to put it down, that capitalism is the best form of economic life. Then the Pope turned to this economist and said, “You know, I think God, in His infinite wisdom, would provide a better alternative than a system which has led to the exploitation and the suffering of millions of people”. You know, we have these different systems, a communist system, and a capitalist system. Maybe God has something better, who knows? A truly ethical God would think of something better than even this. And then one of the economists was sitting down at breakfast, he heard this conversation, and he wrote on the menu in big letters, that “Pope, one, economist zero” and showed it. Yes, so ethics, that’s one approach, a utilitarian approach.
Just the other approach, what is called the deontological approach, that’s a fancy way of saying, duty. So not utility, my duty, or law. The law says I cannot kill people. What law? It could be religious law, my religion says that I cannot kill. Doesn’t matter if five people are going to die there and one person is going to die there or terrorists are going to blow up people, no. A hard and fast rule which says, I will not kill, I will not injure, I will not hurt. Does not matter about the consequences. So my principle will be not consequences, not utility, but just the law. But one can immediately see the problem with this. Which law are you talking about? If you say your religious law, a person who does not believe in your religion will say that’s not my law, a person who does not believe in any religion at all will say, I’m not bound to follow that. So, that cannot be a universal ground for ethics. So, we have seen these two broad paths, one is the path of utility. That has problems. The other is the path of law, you set it down. That has problems because there are always exceptions, there are people who will, who do not believe in your law, who may follow some other law whatever it is, alright, this is the broad background, I mean, very oversimplified problem of ethics. It is put in a very crisp way among philosophers. Derive an ought from an is. Once again, you derive an ought from an is. “Is” means the facts of life. “Is” means the facts of life. And from the facts of life, you cannot derive what should be done. This seems to be the problem. What should be done right and wrong seems to be more a matter of taste or your philosophical conviction or your religious persuasion and has nothing to do with the way things are. Can you, for example, derive morality from science? Sam Harris seems to think so that he has got a book out also about how you can be moral on the basis of science. But it’s not a project that is very promising. So this is the state of philosophical thinking now, very broadly, I said this to one of the professors at Harvard and he said, This is too over-simplistic, but let’s see, let me just go with that.
So what can Advaita Vedanta contribute to this discussion? Advaita Vedanta says, you can derive ethics from metaphysics, you can derive an ought from an is. Now Advaita Vedanta says that ethics is grounded in the very nature of reality, in our reality, we are this existence, consciousness, bliss, this one spiritual reality. And if we are this one spiritual reality, then what kind of ethics flows from this? So the answer to this whole question is, Advaita Vedanta makes this very strong claim. Yes, you can ground ethics in human nature. Human nature means not human nature as human nature, our spiritual nature. Nature as the Atman or Brahman. At this point, someone might say, but that’s the same problem with religion. Suppose I don’t believe in your Atman, Brahman. But notice Advaita Vedanta does not make a religious claim. It makes a claim that everybody, no matter what your religious persuasion, our nature is basically the spiritual oneness. And it’s a question of realizing it, not believing in it, even just believing in it won’t do. So, in the Advaitic perspective, ethics will flow from our nature as the Atman, as this one spiritual reality, this unlimited infinite spiritual reality, and the problem of ethics, why are we unethical? It comes from ignorance of our nature, not knowing who or what we are, and where we can, this country would often say that, that if only you knew yourself as you truly are. So not knowing our true spiritual nature, leads to immorality or lack of ethics. So, ignorance is the cause of unethical behavior. Knowledge is the remedy knowledge of our spiritual nature is the remedy for that,. What follows from this ethics is a measure of freedom rather than compulsion, we are not making a calculus of how much benefit you will get out of it, like the utilitarians you are not compelled by a religious law or a similar moral. I mean, like a, you know, a country’s civil law, no, you are acting out of freedom. You’re an expression of my free of my freedom based on my spiritual nature is ethics. So I’m good because I’m free to be good. What are the criteria then?
So Vivekananda proposes certain criteria, very interesting criteria, which are not grounded in etiology or in even In Vedanta, or anything like that, just basic human criteria. That which is selfish. These are like, rules of thumb to decide what is right and wrong. That which is selfish is likely to be unethical. That which is unselfish is likely to be ethical. That’s one rule. Second, that which makes you stronger physically, morally, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, that which makes you stronger is likely to be ethical. That which makes us weaker, physically, mentally, morally, emotionally is likely to be unethical. That’s the second criteria. Third criterion, again rule of thumb. The third criterion is unity, that which brings people together is likely to be ethical, that which fractures and divides is likely to be unethical. One consequence of this kind of thinking is equality, that all people indeed all beings, because we are rooted in this one divine reality, we are actually at the root equal, not just equal, we are basically one. So, equality is the implication would be quality Swami Vivekananda. One reason he loved the United States was that he would say that Vedanta has a better future here in the United States than in its country of birth, because of the tremendous hierarchical nature of ancient Indian society. So, he was very critical of Indian society at that time, and he said that, no, no religion proclaims the glory of the human soul in such exalted terms as Hinduism does, and no religion treads on the necks of the poor and the and the weak and the underprivileged, in such an in such a way that Hinduism does it because of inequality. And the amazing thing is the first implication of Advaita Vedanta is equality. Another implication is service. So, all right, I am Brahman, we are just one divine reality, that’s cool. But now I’m back in this body and mind and I see that same reality manifested in all these ways. So what’s my relation with everybody else? If we are one, and we appear to be different, then what’s my relation with these different appearances? It can be one of service. One of our monks put it very beautifully. When I close my eyes in meditation, I find peace within when I open my eyes, my attitude is what can I do for you? So this is a very beautiful philosophy of life. You know, the reverse is our problem, a closed my eyes, so much disturbance, unhappiness, and lack of fulfillment, opened my eyes, not what can what I can do for you, what can I get from you, you just need just people from the world from others. To reverse this Advaita Vedanta reverses this. And finally, one more point, one implication of this Advaitic ethics is harmony. So if there is oneness, and it’s manifested in so many ways, different nations, races, genders, religions, belief systems, variety, Vivekananda said variety is the sign of life, uniformity is a sign of death. So when it is wonderful, that is the expression of the divine, as many varieties, that’s something to be enjoyed and preserved, and, and relished, but variety can lead to conflict. So Advaita Vedanta says, the way to manage or enjoy this variety is through harmony, harmony of religions, harmony between science and religion, harmony between races and genders and between science and religion, between, say, in all aspects of life between our work, externalized work life, and internalized spiritual life, harmony, they’re not a separation, not a conflict, not a pull.
So, I will like to sum up, what did I do here? I talked about the basic problem in the field of ethics that why should one be good? Where do you ground ethics? And that’s a problem. Even now, I was interested to see the latest thinking in the field of ethics. I attended those classes at Harvard, this continues to be the problem, continues to be a big question. Neither utilitarianism helps there, deontological theories, theories of law have their limitations, nondualism, Advaita Vedanta, proposes this answer that we are, ethics can be rooted in our spiritual nature. What is the spiritual nature? We are one divine reality, one existence, consciousness bliss, not a matter of belief. It is a claim that it’s actually a fact right not to be realized. And then ethics proceeds from there. So lack of ethics immorality comes from ignorance of our nature. And the solution to that is a knowledge of our real nature. And then ethics is based on freedom, not on compulsion, the rules of thumb you know, for deciding what is right and wrong, selfish, unselfish, strength, weakness, unity and, and disunity. One of the implications of ethics is equality. One of the implications of ethics is a life of service. One of the implications of ethics is harmony. I mean, okay, we’ll discuss this more as we go along. I can see people raising their hands.
>>Rick Archer: Yes, we have some questions. There are three questions here, a couple came in from the YouTube audience and we have one in the chat. So let’s start with our guests here. So I’m gonna unmute Annie Kiyonaga. Go ahead, Annie.
>>Annie Kiyonaga: Hi there – Annie Kiyonaga – wonderful to be with you Swamiji really a treat. So you talk about ethics, I’m not seeing you right now there you are okay to talk about ethics. And for most people, that means a codified body of work, you know, it’s codified, it’s rules, it’s laws. So, but I’d like to know, I’ve always had this understanding and experience, it’s there, there’s a higher law, so to speak, that’s not codified. It comes from pure consciousness. And you might say, our real nature, our nature is Brahman. And that would not be codified. I mean, it would have all these beautiful attributes. But it would be something that would, would exist beyond the mind, so to speak, it would not exist in the usual human paradigm. And I think this could only work if somebody has great purity of heart, and great intention and earnestness. But I just wondered if you could comment on this. Does this make sense to you my question that the difference between the two?
>>Swami Sarvapriyananda: Thank you Annie, is yes, it does. Yes. Now, what I spoke about the ethics flowing from Advaita Vedanta, it requires great purity of heart to intuit this kind of ethics and to live that kind of ethics. Definitely, it does. But you know, I’ll also mix up the two, the two kinds, you talked about the codified do’s and don’ts, which you find in religion, or in secular law, for example. In religion specialists especially, to a great extent, these do’s and don’ts have also come down from some kind of intuition like that. They have come down from prophets and spiritual masters, the founders, the great founders of the major world religions, and they, it’s not that they laid down the law for us, they saw what is spiritually most right. And, and we don’t see it. So we see it as a series of do’s and don’ts. And you’re right, coming down through the centuries, some of those do’s and don’ts might become clouded with cultural overlays, and over time may become irrelevant, or even harmful, actually, actively harmful, because we think it is said so, and so I must do it. But from an objective perspective, all of these ethics, all of these practices are ultimately made to lead us to enlightenment and to live that enlightenment. They are not an end in themselves. So I would agree, not to dispense with the do’s and don’ts, but to bring our own wisdom to those do’s and don’ts. A young man. I’ll give an example of what I mean, a very simplistic example, a young man who was not particularly interested in religion, said to me, Look, one problem I face is, you know, in a very simple way, Muslims say you believe you pray, you have to pray on Friday and the Jews, they have to pray on Saturday and the Christians on Sunday, and the Hindus have just about every day of the week, something is there. So they can’t all be right. I said they can all be right. If you change your paradigm of these do’s and don’ts, what are these do’s and don’ts? So for example, it might be that keeping your mind at a high spiritual level all the time, or in a theistic way, think about God all the time. The next thing that will come is it’s too difficult. Alright, if it’s too difficult to think about God all the time, think about God in a particular time. So that becomes your Friday or your Saturday or your Sunday. It’s perfectly alright. Think about if it’s not possible for you to think about God everywhere. Think about God somewhere so that becomes your temple or church or synagogue or mosque. If you think about it this way, then it makes sense. It makes sense to have some set of rules and no set of rules can be you know, absolute This is right, and do you have to pray five times a day or three times a day or one time a day. If you go into the traditions themselves, which set up these rules, you will find there is an esoteric aspect to each of these traditions in Islam and Judaism and Hinduism, Christianity, which actually says what I’m saying, that it’s not the outer rules which are paramount. You have to be strict about it because you have to discipline yourself. I’ll talk about the importance of discipline later. But they are made for you. The rules are made for man, not man for the rules. I mean human beings are not for the rules, the rules for our development. Sri Ramakrishna used to say about this, that when a sapling, a plant is tender, you need to put a fence around it, especially if you’re in India, otherwise, the cows and goats will come and eat it up. And once it’s grown into a mighty banyan tree, you don’t need the fence, you actually have to take off the fence. Otherwise, it won’t grow. And once it’s grown into a mighty banyan tree, you don’t have to worry about cows and goats. In fact, you can tether an elephant to it. If you have an elephant, some actually do in India to this day, they have elephants, so you can tether your elephant to it. Funny story here I can’t resist.
I remember when I was a young novice in a monastery in Bihar in those days. So a monk, a head of a monastery, another traditional monastery came visiting. And the first thing he asked our senior monk was, how many elephants do you have? So that’s the way of monastic one-upmanship. If I’ve more elephants than you, then I’m a bigger monk than you are. And you have to bow down to me. The Swami in charge of the ashram said that we have some cows, no elephants. Yeah, so the fence is the do’s and don’ts, the do’s and don’ts are the fence. The problem with thinking that I know what is right and wrong and it comes from a divine source within me myself, often the mind can trick us, the mind can deceive us. So a good setup do’s and don’ts followed strictly for some time, then you begin to see what is the mind. We have a saying, the mind itself becomes the guru after some time. But after some time. It’s very important to have the right beginning. The mind will have a lot of wisdom to give you which can lead easily lead an aspirant seeker astray. Okay, good question. Thank you, Annie.
>>Rick Archer: Next question is from Cilia McBride. I’ll unmute Cilia, you’re ready to go.
>>Celia McBride: Thank you, Rick. Thank you Swamiji for your teachings are so clear. First, I just want to tell you so briefly that I was on a bus ride from an ashram in upstate New York. And for two hours this man who follows your teachings was telling me all about you and I must look you up and I must look you up. And then I got to New York, and I got I let myself get lost in Manhattan and I was very tired, and I stopped to have a drink and I pulled out my put my backpack down on a stairwell leading up an old brownstone and took out my water bottle looked up and it was the Vedanta center with your name on it.
>>Swami Sarvapriyananda: Imagine, imagine that.
>>Celia McBride: So that’s a great story. Anyway, I’m so if what we’re talking about if unethical behavior stems from ignorance of who and what we are and so much ignorance is before us in terms of people in power the way things are going in the world. Am I just to keep working on my own self-realization? Am I just to trust that evolution will work all this stuff out? How do I What are some ways some actions that I can take to respond to this unknowing of who and what we are that is in the power structures of the society in which we live?
>>Swami Sarvapriyananda: Yeah, this does ensure interactivity, right? We have to be always on our toes, whether we are computers doing well or not? That’s a question we often get packed. Remember what I said one implication of Advaitic ethics is service. So, if all of this is divine, the manifestation of one Brahman, then how do I react to all these people, these animals, this environment, which is basically a manifestation of myself, my real self? That will be the question. One of our monks many years ago, he was told by, he was running an orphanage. This was nearly 100 years ago, Swami Akandananda, one of the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, and a traditional Advaitic pundit scholar scolded him, wrote to him saying that you are monks, why should you bother about running an orphanage or a school or a hospital? You should meditate and study and attain enlightenment. That’s what you’re supposed to do. And that that was what this traditional idea of monastic ethics was. They consider it unethical, you see, taking care of people, they considered it unethical. So this is a revolution that Swami Vivekananda, for example, he brings around that no, not just a private spirituality, a private spirituality at the end of the day is not particularly spiritual. So there must be something, if I care for myself, if I feed this body, if I give medicines to this body if even honestly, I have to say that, if you, if I get a cut here, and I feel it hurts, then I must have equal concern for everybody, for all these people around me. So, that’s difficult, but that’s just the way it is. So, now, if your environment and what you see around you, asks you to respond to it, I cannot prescribe exactly what you will do. It comes from your environment, it comes from what we call your samskaras. So yes, you must respond. One caution, however. And here I like the Serenity Prayer. You know, in that, Lord, give me the patience to bear the things that I cannot change, the courage to think, to change the things that I can change, and the wisdom to know the difference. Often, there are lots of things in this life, we cannot change. And our mind tricks us into activism on that front, we have things about us and in our immediate neighborhood that we can make a difference to, in my own behavior, my thought, and we ignored that. So that’s one track we have to be aware of. It’s a delicate thing. That’s why I cannot prescribe any particular course of action for you. Two examples, Mahatma Gandhi. In his autobiography, he says, I’ve been asked, Who are you? And people think I’m a politician fighting, or people think I’m a politician. Some people think I’m a freedom fighter, fighting for the freedom of India against the British. Some people think I’m a social reformer, you know, activism against untouchability against illiteracy and so on and so forth. All of which was true. But then he says, was very touching. If you would ask me, I would say, I’m a simple man in search of God. That’s very honest. That’s how he sees himself. It’s so very true. He was always a spiritual seeker, and all of this, fighting for the freedom of India, working for the uplifting, miserable people who are being badly treated by society, calling them untouchables, and things like that. All of this was an expression of his search for God. You might think he is the super activist, more activist, than all of us, but he would consider himself a spiritual seeker, not as any kind of activist.
An example, last example, the abbot of our main monastery in India was Swami Shivananda at one time, so this is from reminiscences about him, this is in the 1920s. So this gentleman, remember India was under British rule. So this gentleman was visiting Swami Shivananda and complaining, you know, all these young boys, they are dropping out of college, ruining their careers joining this, this fellow Gandhi joining his political, you know, what’s all this about fighting against the British and all silliness? And they are, they are not doing their duty, they should study and get a good job. So, this, okay, I’m being warned about the computer anyway. The Swami kept quiet. The next day, that same gentleman came again. And another young man had come to be a monk, a young man to come to be a monk, he bowed down to the swami, got his blessings, and he went up to the monastery to become a monk. And this gentleman was again critical. You know, Swami, what is this? This time when the whole country is up in arms against the British, and Gandhi is inspiring everybody. Here is this young man who’s running away from life and going to spend his life in meditation. Then the swami said, Look, I am quite sure. Gandhi, in the midst of all his freedom struggle and activism and all, is at peace with himself. And this young man, he is going to forget the world, see God, live a life of service and meditation and renunciation, and find peace within himself. The only one I see who has no peace is you yourself. Any one of these if we pursue a high ideal sincerely, honestly, we are safe. That’s wonderful. That’s just wonderful. See, thank you. I’m sorry, I did not give you a straight answer. But that’s just it. Thank you.
>>Rick Archer: Good. The next question is from Catherine Schultz, sorry, Catherine, if I took you out of order, I didn’t see your name up there. So Catherine is ready to go.
>>Catherine Schultz: Hi, thank you so much. So the main thing that kind of keeps popping in is, gosh, I’ve been connected with Advaita Vedanta for maybe 20 years or more. And just watching the history of so many modern people in our society waking up through that path and becoming teachers. And I feel like a lot of the inspiration for this group, not just looking globally at religion and abuses within organized religions, but just also the abuses that have kind of unfolded within, you know, the Advaita Vedanta community of teachers, and I didn’t know how could I apologize for not knowing your background, you know, personally, but I was just wondering if were the lenses on the darshan, or how that gets approached? Is it the kind of a brain where there’s a first-person path and it’s, you know, kind of, I have one with all and I’m God, and then it’s missing the second person, dimension of service, and, you know, that kind of thing. And then the third person is, you know, everything the cosmos is also part of me, and it can be very, I think, first-person and third-person can really forget the body and all that it’s connected with in the emptiness in form, form is emptiness, a dimension, you know, I don’t know how if I’m explaining that, right, but it seems like some big giant, blind spot what can happen, where what I hear you articulating is that the fullness of Advaita Vedanta must include that second person, the path of, you know, in really being very grounded, in every form, must be embraced as emptiness, as myself, and how that reconciles itself each moment, there’s a contracted energy in the space, that inquiry is like, well, what’s here? And, you know, sort of penetrating that again, with the peace of stillness, but it’s a moment by moment, but how do those that have sort of done so many violations within my second?
>>Rick Archer: Hey there.
>>Catherine Schultz: She’s my biggest teacher.
>>Swami Sarvapriyananda: Hello
>>Catherine’s daughter: Who are you talking to?
>>Rick Archer: Did you get the question, Swami?
>>Catherine Schultz: I was blessed to be a momma very late in life, and it’s been just taught me a lot about having conflict in a spacious way. Okay.
>>Catherine’s daughter: What? I’m used to Zoom calls too.
>>Swami Sarvapriyananda: Thank you. Thank you, Catherine. And that’s, I’m very glad you asked this question. Because till now, I have been saying that unethical behavior, immorality, it all comes from ignorance of our real nature, and knowledge is the solution. Now I’m going to say something very different, is knowledge enough? No. Knowledge is not enough. There is a very ancient saying “Saankhya samam gyaanam naasti, Yoga samam balam” that in Sanskrit, it means there is no knowledge like Sankhya, no power like yoga, no strength, like yoga, translated that as we get further into our idiom, it would mean there is no knowledge like spiritual knowledge, one, and there is no strength like spiritual practice. So both are necessary – knowledge and practice. I like this Buddhist teacher, a very well-known Western Buddhist teacher, he talks about, the name of the book, I think, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, it means after
>>Rick Archer: Jack Kornfield, who currently…
>>Swami Sarvapriyananda: Yes, after meditation and study and feeling pure and uplifted, all of us, including monks, we have this life to come back to. You have finances and health and responsibilities and a community and all of this, the laundry of life, is still lived. He says that in spiritual life, you not only have to go away, you have to come back too. So going away and coming back the transcendent and the imminent. Both are important. Now, I’d like to bring in a little bit from positive psychology here, the psychologist Jonathan Haidt, H A I D T. I don’t know how you pronounce that. He’s somewhere here in New York. He has written this book the happiness hypothesis, where he says, Why is it so difficult to be good? That’s the question he takes up. He says that all these self-help books, the crowding the shelves of Barnes and Noble, and all of them have good advice, and they have good insights. Any one or two of them could transform our lives. But why is it so difficult at the end of the day, after buying shelves of those books, how, why is it that our lives do not change much? So he says, it’s because of this, this problem. We are like, he says, like an elephant, and the mahout. The mahout is the Sanskrit word or Indian word for the elephant rider, the controller of the elephant who sits on top of the elephant. So the intellect is like the mahout and the rest of the body, mind system, physical body, emotional body, all of it, our unconscious is like the elephant. Now what happens is, the mahout knows where he wants to go. And he can direct the elephant to go that way. And if the elephant obeys the commands of the mahout, well and good, they will reach their destination. But the elephant does not. The elephant sees bananas somewhere and goes bananas for it and reaches out there and goes up. The mahout is not strong enough to drag the elephant along. Mahout is very weak compared to the elephant. Exactly like that. It’s our intellect, which gets insights, which is inspired by inspiring spiritual talks, which reads books, which, which sets out a plan for improving our lives. You know, it that is the mahout, who’s got the map, who’s got the inspiration, who’s got the intention, but the rest of the body-mind system is the elephant. So tomorrow, I want to get up early in the morning and meditate. I decided it’s perfectly great. I’m now I’m sold on the idea. But when I have to get up, it might be 30 degrees outside and freezing cold. And the body says No, I won’t. It’s comfortable here under the blankets. You never asked me. I didn’t sign up for this crazy idea of doing yoga at five o’clock in the morning. No, I won’t. And it’s so difficult. The intellect is weak compared to the rest of the body-mind. Somebody says a nasty thing. I think we are all God we are all one with each other. And somebody is being difficult, immediately lash back saying something nasty to that person. Where is that coming from? Not from the intellect. It comes from the unresolved complexes of my emotions, my unconscious mind, which is not in line with my intellect. (Let me know if something goes wrong because just I got a warning.) Okay. So now Jonathan Haidt asks this question, what does the elephant respond to? The mahout, the intellect, it responds to spiritual talks and Zoom discussions and books and seminars. Very good. But what does the elephant respond to? What does the body-mind respond to the rest of the body-mind? And it says, How does one train an elephant? Remember, it’s not by giving it a talk. It’s not by inspiring the elephant. It’s not by holding, you know, sending it to workshops. No, it’s by training. It’s by repetition. It’s by repetition. The elephant is a creature of habit.
It is good in monastic life to get up early in the morning. That is the rule. But it does come by agreeing with the rule. It does not come by reading about the benefits of getting up early. It just comes by getting up early again and again and again, till it becomes part of your life till you feel nasty if you sleep after sunrise. So in our novitiate and in like the ?, everybody’s all the young monks are there, you know, everybody gets up at 3:40 am. And I never had that habit. But it was so easy. Of course, I was much younger at that time. But it’s so easy to change because everybody else is doing it around you. And so it’s easy to go around with the crowd in that repetition itself. It did not come by reading a book. It just came by doing it for a sufficiently long period of time, it becomes a habit and that becomes easier now. So my answer to Katherine’s question is a lot of unethical activity, unexpected unethical behavior from spiritual teachers. It just is a kind of weakness in their initial spiritual Journey. From spiritual teachers, from spiritual practitioners. I have seen when you read about the lives of the early monks, in our tradition everywhere, you see this tremendous emphasis on practice, hard discipline practice, not so much they didn’t read so many books. They didn’t attend so many talks. But they lived the life for a sufficiently long period of time till it became natural to them. So, yes, I just say that and stop and I’m sure there’ll be follow-up questions too.
>>Rick Archer: Our next question is from Georgi Johnson, Georgi has been a guest on BatGap. So good to see you, Georgi. Go ahead. And you can start.
>>Georgi Johnson: I get so I had a question a while back. Hi from Israel. We’re at the end of Yom Kippur here. So the Day of Atonement and all of that good and evil repentance. You inspire me so much with each answer to a question that I already get to make. But it’s a pleasure to meet you. Question is about the felt sense. The energetic vibrations of thoughts, of feelings. So when you talk about the elephant, for example, you know, the way that the mind would speak to the elephant to train it to, to say, Okay, this is an ethical behavior, which is conducive to your wellbeing in the long term, the way it would talk would have a resonance, and that resonance is going to fill the whole field of experience. So when we’re talking about ethics, and there’s a threat in it, so within the duality of right and wrong, good, and bad, there’s a threat towards the body-mind like this animal, an innocent, pure natural animal, the elephant is being threatened, you must do this or else, something horrible is going to. Then what, from what I’ve seen, at least in working with people, there is a propagation of another kind of habit even an addiction, which is an addiction to being bad, an addiction to being wrong at the same time that the psyche splits from the wrongness and tries to control it from that same mind. And so this endless struggle starts to be right and not to be wrong in the middle of it is in what somebody asked about the purity of heart, which was such a beautiful observation. Clouding the purity of heart is this incredible, energetic gunk of guilt. Now, you know why I’m speaking from Israel, right? Because there’s, it’s got the collective guilt complex here, which really clouds the ability to move with the ethics of the heart or to feel, get a found feeling connection with the ethics of true nature or Buddha-nature, or to find the real thing which spontaneously arises because we’re so busy trying to be good and not bad. And of course, if you look into Jungian psychology, every investment in being a good person is incredibly egoic and creates an enormous shadow in the bad person, which I must never be which it happens to be Donald Trump or my neighbor, or the other religion, or people that kill people. So the question is really about, if in Advaita Vedanta because I know very little about Advaita Vedanta and it’s such an opportunity to ask somebody who comes from that richness of tradition. Is there a concept of guilt, and a relationship with that felt sense energetic connection to experience as opposed to the mental construct?
>>Swami Sarvapriyananda: Yeah. Right.
>>Georgi Johnson: Because experience all the shoulds and shouldn’ts and do this and don’t do this or else with a fear or threat about it, that’s where we get into so much trouble. Our culture.
>>Swami Sarvapriyananda: Thank you so much, but it’s, it’s very good that you said this. It is, again, going back to what Jac O’Keefe talked about the differences in cultures. So it’s interesting to see this coming from a different culture. It’s not just Jewish people. I see it among Catholics too, with a different background, but a kind of a burden of guilt and fear. So you can imagine when Vivekananda came to this country more than 100 years ago and said that it is a sin to call human beings sinners. You are children of immortal bliss, you are one with the Divine. So that brings me that I mean, why Vivekananda put Vedanta in these terms. He said, one word that comes out again and again from the Upanishads – the fundamental texts of Vedanta – is fearlessness. It is fear, he says, which is the source of misery. It is the fear which is the source of weakness and of evil. He says fear is the source of evil. Strength is the medicine that the world requires. So for Vivekananda actually, strength is not a virtue. Strength is more fundamental than non-virtues out of strength, models strength, strength, a belief in oneself in one’s own divinity. From that comes, it’s manifested as ethics. So it’s interesting. He’s… So guilt is a natural reaction. I mean, even biologists have noted that among the higher animals, and there are endless videos on YouTube of dogs looking cutely guilty, you know, they’ve done made a mess and they look guilty. So it’s a natural reaction. In our tradition. However, when a person has repentance, that I’ve done something wrong and carry this burden, what we say is, you know, the traditional Hindu ritual was a fire into which you put oblations, that was the old Vedic kind of ritual. So imagine the fire of your own divine self, which is always perfect, even now, pour all your atonement, your sorrow, your repentance into that, and just say, I’m free of it, and I shall not do this anymore, and be free of it. And that divinity, the power is already within us to let go have that burden, acknowledge that burden, that I am unhappy because of this reason. And then let go of it saying that I will not do it again, I’m free of it. In my real nature, from an Advaitic sense, in real nature, you are always free of it. Now, the two things, as you said, very important observation, even a strenuous effort at ethics, which all religions, all systems of ethics will, will tell you to make, that itself creates a counter effect, a shadow, the movement in this path will create a shadow. That is the way of the ego, the limited ego, whatever it does, and the like the poet, I think it was Elliott who said, between the intention and the act, falls the shadow. So no matter how pure our intentions are, the moment we try to bring it into action, a shadow falls in between. It’s never as perfect or as good as we wanted it to be. That’s why the real effort in Advaita Vedanta is to make a direct breakthrough. Not that you have to be preliminary, you’ve spent many years perfecting your ethics, that will never happen. Because we are right now, we are living in a world manufactured out of our own ignorance. So all our efforts here will have that shadow. Just enough to get our life in order enough to get some peace and purity of mind, and then make a strenuous effort to break through this, this life of delusion. Once we come into contact or when we realize our real nature, then ethical life actually becomes easier, it becomes much more natural then. It still requires some effort, but it still it becomes much more natural, it becomes an expression of a truth that we are already seeing. So yeah, that’s what I would like to say. Thank you, Georgi.
>>Rick Archer: Okay, um, next I have a question. There’s another question in the chat and a question from Alexander. But since you just mentioned fear, I wanted to ask you a question that came in from someone named Tuli who is watching on YouTube. She said How does the philosophy and practice of Advaita Vedanta respond to the current issues of our human reality? Fear, suffering, fear, fear of death from COVID and social injustices of racism and an unequal distribution of wealth and power? Can Advaita Vedanta provide wisdom and guidance for those who need it most?
>>Swami Sarvapriyananda: Absolutely, and it’s a good question. And I’m again reminded of Vivekananda that he said that I do not believe in a religion that promises you heaven after death and cannot wipe the widow’s tears in this life, cannot hold a piece of bread to the starving man. Remember, he’s talking about India in the late 19th century. So religion, spirituality must be helpful to us here and now. Maybe it won’t make us Buddhas right away. But wherever we are, in whatever condition we are, it must make a big difference to us right away. Here and now. Advaita Vedanta, it tells you two things. Your real nature is beyond death. You were never born when the body was born. But it’s not that you were born with the body, the body will age, and the body will decay, and it will die. Accept that. It is nothing to you. Once we realize what we are we begin to see it’s not that after becoming enlightened, we are the Atman the absolute. No. When we become enlightened, we realized it was always, so I did not see this. Now I see it. So you can say with conviction, even to those who do not see it, that it’s alright. Don’t be afraid, you will be alright. Even if tomorrow, I get the COVID. And I suffer and I die alone. I mean, I’m in New York, I’ve been hearing these stories. Now things are much better, thankfully. But in March and April and May and June, the peak of it. They were 800 to 900 people dying a day. There are people here who come to the ashram who are doctors who were in the ER. And in the ICU. They talked about, you know, they said, the worst thing that we saw was these people dying alone. No relatives, Nobody allowed near them. Even the doctors or nurses are wearing this, you know, like the robotic suits and watching from a distance. They struggle to breathe and to die alone. Even there Advaita Vedanta says courage, this too shall pass, and you will see that, okay, that was the body, a piece of machinery which failed. It leaves me completely unscathed. So that kind of conviction. And the second thing that Advaita Vedanta says, this is the nature of the world. Why are you surprised? It is the Buddha’s realization, the first noble truth, that suffering is basically the nature of the world. Change is basically the nature of the world. So don’t be overwhelmed by this. Others before us have faced this, whether it’s the Spanish flu, we have a senior-most member here is Bill Conrad, who’s 96 years old. He’s lived through, he was too young to see the Spanish flu, but he’s lived through the Second World War. He was in the war himself. And he’s lived his long life in New York itself nearly 100 years now. So he has seen all of this. He’s unmoved. He got the COVID. And we are thinking that at this age in 95, he gets the COVID, he celebrated his 96th birthday and is fine. Now. It is a maturity that comes of a long life of spiritual practice and observing the world. Don’t be shaken, even by these events, the COVID, and the economic downturn, and things like that. We will get through it. Our ancestors got through much worse. We have seen many things in our lives, and in many lives past which we do not recall. We will get through this, and it will leave it we will get through this unscathed.
>>Rick Archer: Okay, next question is from Alexander. Alexander, you are unmuted.
>>Alexander: Go ahead. Thank you. Hi, hello, Swamiji. And very happy to be able to speak to you. My question, I am wondering how you would explain unethical behavior in supposedly enlightened people, especially since, say from a phenomenological perspective, it’s also like arising spontaneously as oneness. And at which point someone might not really have a sense of they’re doing something unethical, because it’s just a dance anyway. Or it’s just like biological machines doing stuff. So how would you correct someone’s behavior in this situation? And maybe what would you point them at, especially since you know, they might not be able to see any problems, so they might not feel motivated to change anything?
>>Swami Sarvapriyananda: Yes. The one unfortunate fact is, even among spiritual seekers, even among spiritual practitioners and teachers, there is unethical behavior sometimes. Now, it is not new. It’s not something that we are seeing in, you know, coming from the counterculture in the 20th century, or in the 21st century, gurus and Yogi’s and all, some of them are getting exposed for unethical behavior. It is not new, in an ancient, you know, land which has cultivated spirituality for millennia this is something that was well known and understood with sympathy, but also with an idea that this is not right, and it should be corrected. So if somebody is trying to be ethical and spiritual, it’s a difficult path. And if large numbers of people set out on that path, you would inevitably expect people to slide and slip and fall. So this is a phenomenon well known. There are endless stories about sages and monks and spiritual seekers who fall or slide from the path. And yet there is a sympathy there that this is not the end for them, that is completely wrong, and they will get the results of their karma. This was the traditional understanding. And yet it’s not the end, it’s not eternal hell or something like that. They will start all over again in this life or the next life and everybody will attain to, to spirituality to enlightenment. Now, how do you deal with it on a practical basis? What we started with, that’s a very good formula. One can be good without being particularly spiritual. But one is not spiritual without being good. Goodness, ethical behavior, basic ethical behavior, right and wrong is what one might call a necessary condition of spirituality. Without that there is no spirituality. Now I remember somebody asked this question to the Dalai Lama, and I heard this on a, like a video I saw, what do you do if I find a particular teacher is unethical, the Dalai Lama said, distance yourself from the teacher, it’s the problem of that particular teacher. But it’s not the problem of the teaching, you go on practicing and walk forward in your way, don’t get involved with, you know, setting the teacher right or in the whole issue of what you do there. Protect yourself first, and the teacher’s karma will take care of it. So ethical life absolutely essential for beginner, for advanced student, for teacher. Teachers have a special role. The Bhagavad Gita says those who are in the position of teaching or leading society have a special role to be ethical, the reason is, what they do is taken as a standard by others. So one can create havoc if one is unethical in one’s personal life. Now, there are different ways of this. So it’s the problem is more a human problem than a spiritual problem. You see, in some ways, Advaita Vedanta is safe against many kinds of exploitation, because it’s a very impersonal philosophy. So you are Brahman, the center is not with the guru or the teacher, the teacher is acting as a facilitator of pointing out your own reality. As Vivekananda said, if any, if you’re following a particular teaching or a teacher, you find that you’re becoming weaker, more dependent, avoid it like poison. It should make you stronger, it should make you more independent, it should make you more rooted in the divinity within yourself. Not hanging on to the coattails of a teacher, no matter how great. Vivekananda himself, for example, is a wonderful example for this. He died at the age of 39. And one of the things he said was that many other teachers have ruined their followers by staying too long with them. We believe he gave up his body in meditation, he used to say I won’t live to see 40. Jac O’Keefe, did you want to say something at the end about ASI?
>>Jac O’Keeffe: It makes me more keen to have more dialogue, more conversations, because perhaps, you know, the thinking traditionally, which was of its time, that the students must take care of themselves and let the karma work out for the teacher. We’re moving into a time of, of where we as teachers want to want to take more responsibility for ourselves. And not just let it up to karma, but to find a way to remain doing our spiritual practice. What is it? Can we introduce peer support with each other? What can we do? Because in the West, we seem to be quite isolated from each other. And the ASI is trying to draw teachers together. You know. I remember reading Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi and seeing photographs of him with Anandamayi Ma and other great sages. It’s like, talk to each other, what do they talk about? And, and at the ASI we’re creating a platform to like, what can we discuss, so that we can be mirrors for each other as teachers to explore? Well, let’s not leave it up to our karma. But let’s bring phenomenal knowledge and spiritual wisdom together to stop the unethical behavior that is there for tradition. So we’re trying to change the culture at that other level. So that’s what I’d like to add.
>>Swami Sarvapriyananda: I just do something that Phil Goldberg mentioned in the chat. He said no difference between teachers who are accountable to a lineage and independents who have no affiliation. Sometimes good to be part of a sangha. It keeps, it cuts you down to size. So in the monastery, nobody cares about what visions you have, what insights you’ve gained, you have to turn up to cut vegetables like everybody. Did I freeze up again?
>>Rick Archer: You did I think you said you have to turn up to cut vegetables like everybody else.
>>Swami Sarvapriyananda: Like everybody else, yes. It cuts you down to size. It keeps you keep you grounded.
>>Rick Archer: Okay, well, thank you very much. Um, let me just this I’m showing on the screen of the recording that’ll go online the Vedanta Society of New York website. And what is that VSNY.com or something?
>>Swami Sarvapriyananda: VSNY.com.
>>Rick Archer: Dot com.
>>Swami Sarvapriyananda: Yes.
>>Rick Archer: And there’s also, Swamiji has a podcast called Vedanta talks, which you can find on iTunes and things like that, which contains literally hundreds of talks he’s given on the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and all kinds of things. So that’s great. And let’s see here. Here’s the website of the Association for Spiritual Integrity. It’s spiritual hyphen integrity.org. And anyone watching this, who is not already a member, and there’s a bunch of people watching, and there will be more on YouTube, is welcome to visit that and see what we’ve got going on there. So I think that wraps it up. Thank you so much for being our guest today. I wish we had three hours instead of an hour and a half. But you know, it’s a sampling. And there’s some saying, I think this is an old Bengali saying this, for the wise only an indicate only an indication is necessary. Right? Have you ever heard that one? So we’ve given them a sampling, but there’s like you were saying, I think spirituality is a lifelong study and ethical, ethical issues are part of spirituality. So it’s just one of the legs of the table that has to be maintained throughout one’s life on Earth in order for progress to be assured and, and significant.
>>Swami Sarvapriyananda: Yes, thank you so much. Thank you for having me. Thank you. Take care.
>>Rick Archer: Thank you very much.
>>Swami Sarvapriyananda: Take care.